Andreas Späth

Buying climate dissent

2010-04-14 07:35

I wish climate change were a hoax, a big conspiracy without basis in reality. I hope the consequences of global warming turn out to be insignificant, nothing to lose sleep over and perhaps even beneficial to the planet. At the very least I’d rather prefer it if we humans were not responsible for any negative outcomes.

But that’s all just wishful thinking - science tells us so. The vast majority of scientists working in this field - most surveys suggest over 95% of them - have long come to a broad consensus: global climate change is really happening, the effects will be overwhelmingly detrimental and in many cases devastating, and human activities are a major driving force behind the process.

So why is it that the mere mention of climate change is guaranteed to raise indignant heckles from vociferous “sceptics” who insist that it’s all poppycock, an attempt by scientists to mislead us in order to secure their cushy jobs, disinformation spread by green industry tsars who are busy getting rich on the back of climate hysteria, the overly-emotional response by silly tree-huggers to a natural phenomenon, or simply the latest effort of international fascists or communists (take your pick) to make us dance to their orthodoxy?

Personally I think it’s to do with addiction. We’re as addicted to burning fossil fuels as a long-time smoker is to nicotine. For decades, the tobacco industry used a barrage of public relations and advertising campaigns to tell us that there was no scientific basis for the claim that smoking was unhealthy. And for a long time it worked: many a smoker, who knew instinctively that this was not true nevertheless clung to these blatant lies.

Today it’s the immensely profitable fossil fuel industry that is telling us that their products - oil, coal and gas - are safe to use and not the cause of climate change. They spend millions on lobbying politicians and governments, setting up front groups and fake grassroots organisations, funding conservative think tanks and institutes, and producing and disseminating junk science and misinformation that pooh-pooh the peer-reviewed work of hundreds of international climate scientists.

Here are just a few highlights from their “Climate Change is Bogus” playbook:

- As early as 1989 fossil fuel industry front groups like the now defunct Global Climate Alliance were established to refute the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

- Between 2005 and 2008, ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, spent $8.9m on funding dozens of groups who, according to the British Royal Society, “misrepresent the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”.

- During the same period Koch Industries, the second biggest privately-owned company in the US with major assets in oil pipelines, refineries and coal, contributed $24.9m to some 40 climate denial organizations, including the neoliberal Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

- In 2006 the American Enterprise Institute, another conservative industry-sponsored think tank, offered $10 000 plus travel expenses to any scientist willing to publish an article critical of an upcoming IPCC report.

- Between 2006 and 2009, ExxonMobil spent $87.9m, Chevron $50m and Koch $37.9m on lobbying the US government against effective climate legislation.

- Even major European corporations such as Shell and BP, who publicly claim to be tackling climate change, spend millions on lobbying governments to defend their right to pollute.

Although much of this happens in the USA and Europe, the effects are global. The idea is to create what’s sometimes called an “echo chamber”: repeat something, regardless of whether it’s true or not, often enough and soon you’ll have your message bouncing off public commentators, various media platforms and through viral networks all over the planet. The initial financial outlay may be high, but soon enough you’ll have self-declared spokespeople, even in far-lung places like South Africa, who’ll happily repeat and defend your garbage and misinformation for free.

Climate change is real. Don’t let the denialists fool you: they’re hot air dispensers whose ideas are backed, directly or indirectly, by millions of petro-dollars but few scientific facts.

Send your comments to Andreas

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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